June 21, 2015 – Who’s in the Boat?

To listen to this sermon, click here: 111029_001

Jesus and the twelve had spent a long day, surrounded by crowds, probably thousands, of desperate people, teaching and healing. Matthew says that on that day Jesus cast out evil spirits with a word, and healed everyone who was sick. And when night began to close in, Jesus told his disciples it was time to head over to the other side of the sea of Galilee. They were in Capernaum, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And as they made their was across a violent storm came up. The sea is only about 8 miles across, less at the northern end where they were crossing, but just imagine what a vast distance even a few miles are if you are being battered by winds, and waves are crashing in over the side of the boat.

Mark tells us – and this is probably as he heard it from Peter, who was there – that even in all that chaos Jesus had fallen asleep, exhausted, on a cushion in the back of the boat. And they all rushed back to wake him up and let him know they were all about to die, and didn’t he even care? It seems that it never occurred to them to ask Jesus to do something about it – to rescue them in some way – even though they had seen him work so many miracles in the course of that day alone. They just wanted to know that he cared what was happening to them, that he was with them in spirit as well as just being present physically.

But Jesus being Jesus, he woke up and did the last thing any of them were expecting him to do. He spoke to the wind and he spoke to the crashing waves. Mark says he rebuked them, like a father might hush a child in the midst of a temper tantrum. He said, “Peace! Be quiet!” And in that instant the wind stopped its howling and the sea grew calm. And then Jesus turned to his disciples, and he had a gentle rebuke for them as well. “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you trust me yet?” Mark says that that filled them all with an altogether different kind of terror. Suddenly it began to dawn on them that Jesus was not what they thought he was – not just a great teacher and a powerful healer, but something much greater, someone with powers they had never even imagined. “Who is this guy?” they asked each other, “What kind of man can command the wind and the sea and they actually obey him?”

Now, we don’t generally find ourselves in a little fishing boat battered by wind and waves, but the church of Jesus Christ sails some pretty stormy waters. I’m sure most of you have heard this before, but if you look up at the ceiling of this room, you can see that our sanctuary, like many traditional church buildings, is built a lot like a ship, an inverted ship, but a ship nonetheless, as if to remind us that like the disciples crossing the sea of Galilee we are sailing some pretty stormy waters and facing some very threatening headwinds. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus told his followers time and again?

In his sermon on the Mount at the outset of his ministry, he told them, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and hate you and speak all kinds of evil falsely against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for they persecuted the prophets who came before you the same way.” And at the Last Supper, the night he was betrayed and arrested, he said to them, “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

When we find ourselves in the boat with Jesus Christ, we can pretty much expect stormy seas. He told us as much, not just once but many times. And just as the story of the Calming of the Sea teaches us truly about Jesus’ identity as the Lord over all Creation, the Lord of wind and waves, it also has a lot to say about how we navigate the storms of this world. It seemed to me that this reading was especially important in the wake of the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston.

It is a terrifying thing, I think, that a group of faithful Christians gathered to pray and read God’s word in a house of worship had their lives taken in an act of hatred and violence. It certainly shakes us out of the easy security of our ‘normal’ lives. It should remind us that there are people – Christians and non-Christians – who face the winds and waves of hatred and violence every day, not only in places that are comfortably far away from us like the Middle East or the Ukraine, but for people, and especially people of color, right here in this country. And most of all today it should remind us that we share the same boat, and we sail the same seas, as our brothers and sisters in Charleston, and all those who live in constant danger and with daily suffering. We are fellow travellers with them, sharing this storm-tossed boat with our Lord Jesus Christ.

And when terrible things happen, as they happened this past week, we might go running to Jesus with the same question the disciples asked him when they woke him up in the fishing boat, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And today, as on that night in the storm, Jesus answers our question with a question of his own, “Don’t you trust me?” Because our hope in this storm is not legislation or concealed handguns or high-tech security. Our only real hope is to have faith in the goodness and the wisdom and the power of Jesus, to whom has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – and then to do, in faith, and with courage, all that we are called to do, to go where we are called go, and to bring his message of love to the world, even when the world hates us. And make no mistake about it: there is nothing easy about faith. For the Christians in Charleston, it was faith that made them welcome Dylann Roof into their midst, and faith gave their families the courage and the grace to speak words of forgiveness to him, and to plead with him to give his life to Jesus “to the one who matters most” as one of the family members said.

Jesus warned his disciples, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” But he gave them this promise, “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Jesus never promised to deliver us from every storm. But what he did promise is this: that he would always be in the boat with us. The very last word he gave us was this: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” No matter what happens, no matter what storms we face, we are safe in his hands. We can trust him always.

St. Philip’s Church in Norwood is comfortably far from Charleston. I imagine most of us watched the news this week with grief and with horror and maybe with anger, but not with the feeling that we ourselves are in immediate danger. Those of us in this room, for the most part, have never felt the threat of persecution and violence. But the winds of racism and the waves of hatred are all around us, in the media for sure, but also right on the streets of our village, even among our family and friends. If we are honest we might even find it in our own hearts and minds. And I think it is safe to expect that if we are with Christ we will find ourselves sailing right into the storm. Because we know that our Lord who sees the fall of the tiniest sparrow most assuredly cares for his children, our brothers and sisters, when they suffer.

As members of his church, made up of people from every nation and every race on earth we are called to oppose racism and injustice and hatred of all kinds: fear, suspicion, mockery, indifference, wherever we meet them. We have the authority as members of the Church to rebuke racism with Christ’s all-powerful word of love, the same way our Lord rebuked the winds and the waves. But we don’t need to be afraid, because Jesus is still our fellow traveller, and we know that no power on earth can withstand his will or his word.

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